Our bodies are meant for this.
This innocent-sounding phrase is everywhere. You read it in novels. You hear the instructor in childbirth class repeat it again and again. And it’s all over on social media. It’s something women say to other women because they think that it is encouraging and helpful. Maybe you’ve even said it yourself because you were trying to reassure your pregnant friend that everything was going to turn out all right. Childbirth is scary so if you believe that we as women are “meant for this” maybe the whole thing will seem easier, but really that sentiment doesn’t help at all.
Whenever I hear someone say, “Our bodies are meant for this,” I get so angry. I hate those words because they sound so nice but really they can wreck havoc on a woman’s self image. Please just stop and think about what this phrase is really saying. These words imply that as women, our whole lives revolve around the experience of birthing babies. It’s like saying women’s bodies pretty much only exist so that we can go through labor and push babies through our vaginas. And if anything else happens or if you don’t ever get to have that particular experience, you haven’t fulfilled your body’s purpose. You aren’t natural. Maybe you didn’t try hard enough.
Well I say, screw this whole idea. I’m here to tell you- my body was not meant for this. I’ve gone through childbirth twice and had two totally different experiences with labor and delivery. The first was a long hard labor that ended in a “natural” delivery and the second was a short easy labor that ended in a near-emergency cesarean. Though my experiences were vastly different, they had one thing in common: neither birth felt like something that I was meant to do. Nope, not even a little bit.
The birth of my first child was “natural” so it probably should have been a great experience, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. In fact, I hate using the word “natural” to describe birth because it makes me sound like I think other births are not natural and therefore aren’t as good or something. But the phrase “natural childbirth” has become shorthand and it’s the easiest way for me to tell you that my son came into this world without the need of any interventions such as being induced or using pain meds or undergoing surgery. Instead it was just thirty-six hours of awesome-super-fun-times-meant-for-this-labor, followed by two hours of suturing because my body is totally meant for being ripped wide open. Fun times!
Yes, I am proud of myself for powering through that incredibly difficult first labor.
It was something I wanted to do and I did it. But no, I never felt like my body was meant for any of that. In fact through the entire ordeal I felt like I was working against my body. I felt like I was giving birth to my son despite my body. My body seemed to want to work against me. It did not feel like some force of nature was supernaturally on my side. Nor did I feel like my body was meant for the ten weeks it took for my poor, sad pelvic floor to heal. And I certainly don’t feel like everything is according to nature’s plan when my scar still occasionally throbs even though four years have passed. Thank you, nature!
Don’t get me wrong, I am a proponent of natural birth. I’ve experienced it and I strongly feel that it should be an available option for women everywhere. I feel so lucky that I was able to have a midwife catch my first baby. And being able to hold my son close to my chest while he was still attached to me through his umbilical cord was one of the best moments of my life. But don’t give me the line that our bodies are meant for this. They are not. Human childbirth is extremely difficult. In comparison to the mother-to-baby ratio of other mammals, human babies are giants when they are born. And let us not forget that up until very recently, it was extremely dangerous for women to experience childbirth. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, this is still true.
When we tell pregnant women that your body is meant for this, we are essentially lying to them. And we are dismissing the experiences of so many mothers. This phrase negates the experience of adoptive mothers and those who cannot get pregnant. Because if we continually assert that a woman’s body is meant for childbirth, what value do we assign to those women that cannot biologically have a baby? Also, this saying is hurtful to me and so many other women who have needed to have cesareans in order to save the lives of themselves and their babies. Perhaps the worst part is that the phrase “our bodies are meant for this,” dishonors the memory of the countless women who have died trying to bring their babies into this world. If our bodies were meant for childbirth, why didn’t they survive?
Until I went through my second labor and ended up needing to have a cesarean, I was a full believer in the whole our bodies are meant for this philosophy. When I was in labor with our second baby, I remember turning to my husband between contractions and saying, “This is so great. I feel like my body is finally doing what it is supposed to do.” The ironic thing is that at that very moment, when I was so sure that everything was going so well, my body was actually trying to push my baby out feet first. She was literally almost falling out of my body backwards. This is a very dangerous situation because the cord can become prolapsed, cutting off the baby’s oxygen. Thank god this didn’t happen. But in those moments, my body was definitely not “doing what it was supposed to”.
Instead my baby almost came into the world in a very dangerous way. And I ended up going through a cesarean that bordered on being a full blown emergency.
Childbirth is bad-ass. It is both difficult and miraculous. And women should feel proud of themselves for having the guts to go through with it in all the different ways that it can be experienced. So, please, let’s stop telling women that our bodies are meant for this. It is misguided, inaccurate, and harmful. Instead, let’s tell pregnant women, “You can do this! We all get scared and we all struggle, but it’s worth it in the end- no matter what happens.”